In conversation with Abdallah Hussein of Fyonka

Mostafa El Kholy [left] Abdallah Hussein [right]

Egypt’s first all-female ride hailing service will officially launch soon to provide a safe method of transportation and employment opportunities for women in the country.

A United Nations (UN) study revealed that 99 per cent of women in Egypt have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives and so providing a safe platform for them was not just a business idea for Fyonka, but a necessity.

The company has already trained 250 women drivers in Cairo, registered more than 1200 mobile app downloads in its first month of soft launch and completed close to 1000 rides.  It now plans to launch its service in Alexandria, Tanta and Asyut within the next six months and then to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The company received a great deal of attention from investors at this year's RiseUp Summit and will look to raise investment early next year.

Wamda spoke to Abdallah Hussein, who co-founded Fyonka with Mostafa El Kholy, about his entrepreneurial journey and why he decided to leave his family’s construction business to launch his own company.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I always wanted to build something myself and see it grow, I saw how my father built the family business. But I had a huge backlash from the family. The construction business in Egypt is booming, they’re overwhelmed with work and they didn’t take it lightly when I told them I’m leaving. But after they understood what I’m trying to build and the number of women we’re helping, they became supportive.

How has this startup changed you?

When we started, it was purely business. We thought we found a gap in the market and thought about how to exploit that. After I got into it, I was shocked by the information, like the 40 per cent gender pay gap. We have taken this on as our fight, we’re big feminists now. The males are the problem, the change has to come from men.

How is this different to women drivers on platforms like Uber or Careem?

At Fyonka we aim to build something bigger than just transportation, it’s an initiative to empower women and help women in Egypt to fulfil their potential. There’s a cultural barrier here, the father, husband or brother don’t accept a woman driving a car with male passengers, so we give employment to these women. From the customer perspective, we provide safety.

One of our main aims is to help women help themselves, part of the profits we make goes into empowerment projects. We have two different projects now, the first is reading and writing classes for girls in villages. In Egypt, you find a lot of women with home-run businesses, for example sewing or making candles. We have partnered with New Woman Foundation to hold workshops for these women, giving them courses and information on the legal, operations and marketing activities.

What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

Job security. I used to make so much money and now I’m bootstrapping. Mostafa was a supply chain manager for Nestle and he’s getting married in a year, but it’s part of the risk, we knew that whatever happened, we had to take this risk. I also can’t remember having a weekend off. I don’t take time off. But the reward is having a company and helping women.

What has been your biggest milestone?

Mostafa and I don’t have a technical background and we both faced big problems with the technicalities. It took six months to test the app and get it fully functional. The biggest milestone was when we knew our app was ready to go and we could launch.

What will you industry look like in the next few years?

It’s becoming extremely competitive and the market now is a bit saturated. With Fyonka, we’re trying to differentiate, and we have found our niche. This is not a problem in the Egyptian market alone, it can be scaled up across the Middle East and North Africa and South East Asia.

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